Hyde Park Olympic concert: Snow Patrol, Simon Le Bon and Ricky Gervais's beard strike a chord
"The night's most enduring band – with Le Bon in Union Jack jacket – enter after a brief, bracing deluge"
Nick Hasted has been a film journalist since 1986. He writes about film, music, books and comics for The Independent, Sight & Sound, Uncut and Little White Lies. He has published two books: The Dark Story of Eminem (2002), and You Really Got Me: The Story of The Kinks (2011), both from Omnibus Press.
Saturday 28 July 2012
This semi-official splicing of British pop with the Olympics opening night has a certain aptness. Britain's sport and pop both strain to keep proud traditions free of corporate hijacking and feel-good blandness. Tonight's four bands from each part of the UK also represent, in meekly second-division terms, crucial strands of our pop DNA. England's Duran Duran are the failed art school glam rockers; Wales's Stereophonics, stodgy kitchen sink rock; Scotland's Paolo Nutini, Celtic R'*'B; and Northern Ireland's Snow Patrol, a decent response to Coldplay's empty palliatives. Roxy Music, Arctic Monkeys, Van Morrison and Radiohead must have been washing their hair.
The night's most enduring band, Duran Duran, enter after a brief, bracing deluge. Simon Le Bon recalls David Brent in his tightly shaven beard, Union Jack jacket and white trousers. Roger Taylor remains so louchely decadent, he gets a glitter-dressed female reserve to play his drum solo on "Save A Prayer". Nick Rhodes' antique Korg synth spins into Frankie Goes to Hollywood's "Relax" during "Wild Boys". The yacht-rock sexism of "Rio" ("her name is Rio, she don't need to understand") is less impressive than 1993's relatively late hit "Ordinary World"; a failure-chastened link with the mundane melancholy at the heart of the best English pop.
It's a still more suitable opening to a celebration of the most multi-cultural city on earth when Paolo Nutini, third generation son of Italian-Scot fish and chip shop owners, begins with the Jamaican ska of "10/10". The Chicago funk of Curtis Mayfield's "Theme from Superfly" introduces "Jenny Don't Be Hasty"'s hopeless teenager's romantic plea.
Nutini doesn't have an original musical idea in his head, or his voice, trained in the school of Otis Redding and his cigarette-shredded Anglo-Scot pupil, Rod Stewart. But "These Streets" is a poignantly nostalgic 1960s-style Scottish folk song, built from youthful memories; "Pencil Full of Lead", a merging of Dixieland and Britain's rock pre-history, skiffle's banjo-strums. "Coming Up Easy" is a Scots-Stax stew which would suit a less typically grey London day. Leaning back on his mic stand and clenching his fist, in a 1978 Scottish World Cup shirt Otis Redding never had a chance to wear, Nutini can't get the docile crowd to dance. But his honest-hearted endeavour is tough to dismiss.
Over at Stratford, a far greater show is in process: Danny Boyle's triumphantly meaningful and unifying vision of Britain, surprising, socialist, monarchist, slick and patriotic, in a way the pretty vacant propaganda of Mayor Boris Johnson and co. have wholly missed.
Londoners at Hyde Park, largely oppressed by the Olympics' authoritarian seven-year build-up, have clearly resolved to have a party regardless of any notes hit tonight. The ragbag of music here is a woefully underwhelming hint at Britain's biggest post-war glory, shamefully bland. But perhaps, in the strange national fortnight coming up, that won't matter so much.
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